Jobs framework under fire

March 28, 1997

GOVERNMENT plans to subject higher education staff to a common framework of occupational standards based on national vocational qualifications have caused controversy even before their publication.

An initial project funded by the Department for Education and Employment to define higher education jobs has been criticised by its own steering group members before it reports next month.

The report, seen by The THES, highlights a number of stumbling blocks. Some steering group members have questioned the project's rationale.

The Universities' and Colleges' Staff Development Agency project's draft final report, Occupational and Functional Mapping of the Higher Education Sector in Great Britain, makes recommendations for future development "assuming that it is agreed that the investigation should be taken forward".

Based on a 1995 UCoSDA study for the DFEE, A Feasibility Study on the Application of Higher Level N/SVQs to the Training and Development of Academic and Related Staff in Higher Education, the new draft report highlights "concerns raised" about the "NVQ functional analysis approach". These included:

* The ability to capture, in one key statement, the nature of higher education

* The language used being alien to a higher education audience

* The value and recognition of the use of the exercise to academics and other staff.

The study is part of the Government aim to define all jobs in the sector, with a view to setting occupational standards, and ultimately to bring each sector in line with a national qualifications framework.

Derek Betts, the steering group member representing lecturers' union Natfhe, pointed out that the draft report was only the first stage in a very long process.

"We are a long way from any new professional qualifications. This is just an attempt to map the occupations from caretakers to lecturers. But there are criticisms that the framework does not represent all the nuances and complexities of certain jobs. Many lecturers are already getting professional qualifications to teach," he said.

Robin Middlehurst, a representative of the Higher Education Quality Council on the steering group, said she was concerned about the lack of adequate representation of the different staff groups, which was "particularly true of academics".

She also criticised the draft report's definitions of the key purposes in higher education.

"If the starting point is not correct or adequate, it is extremely difficult for the consultants to get a grip of the scale, scope and diversity of higher education."

The draft report is subject to a final steering meeting before it is published next month.

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